“What’s wrong with you, Noel?” Julian asked solemnly, his eyes not once leaving Noel’s face – in fact he didn’t even blink. His voice didn’t hold a trace of anger, sadness or anything for that matter. It was not coloured with a tone; it was not asking for a fight – it wanted an answer.
“What’re you talkin’ about, Ju?” Noel replied, his words ever so slightly slurred.
This conversation took place inside a dressing room, Noel sitting on the table with his legs swinging whilst Julian stood adjacent – his eyes burning into the younger man’s skin.
Julian contemplated taking a step forward, but he figured that would be too imposing, he wasn’t trying to start something. “You are always drunk.” Julian stared at Noel, his eyes tracing the silhouette of a man who looked the same but wasn’t the same – not inside. Noel’s hair was sticking out at the back and his eyes – his magnificent eyes stared up to Julian.
Noel stifled a laugh, then his fingers tightened on the wet beer bottle in his hand. “What? Nah. That ain’t true.”
“You wake up drunk, Noel!” Julian surprised himself, he didn’t expect to shout – he didn’t want to shout. It was an accident. Noel flinched visibly, perhaps the alcohol increased the sound of Julian’s voice. “You go to bed drunk, you perform drunk.” Julian sounded solemn once again – his head dropping.
Noel wasn’t looking at Julian anymore, instead his eyes were on his shoes – his magnificent white platform boots.
“Do you have a problem?” Julian asked, staring at his friend – his best friend. He could see the confusion spread across the younger man’s face, then he saw it change.
Noel clenched his teeth before he stood up, his eyes drawing level with Julian. Anger burnt through Noel’s body like lava, destroying any hint of sadness that lay before. “What do you want me to say, Ju?!”
Julian stared at Noel, watching the younger of the two grasp the bottle – his thin fingers looked so delicate.
“Do you want me to tell you that I like having fun?! Because I do! And you always knew that, so don’t try to tell me I’m the one changing.” Noel grabbed the door handle and Julian noticed the way his hand shook. He wanted to hold it. He wanted to tell Noel everything would be alright. But it was too late. Noel was gone, in a flash. One slammed door and that was it.
Julian remembered the first time he noticed just how delicate Noel appeared to be. He remembered watching him performing on that tiny stage – although it wasn’t really a stage – more like a step above the flooring of the pub. A stage to them at the time.
Noel captured Julian, Julian had no idea what Noel was saying half the time but he laughed anyway – because Noel could do that. He was infectious. And he was smart in a way nobody else was, he knew how to dazzle people just by being himself. Noel was different.
That was the word, the only word that Julian could use to describe him. Different.
“You were really good out there.” Julian said warmly as Noel clambered down from the stage and towards the bar. Noel grinned, that same crooked, boyish, heart-warming grin that he had always had. The same grin that Julian kept close to his heart, just in case the day came where he would never see it again.
Noel laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you think so?” He asked, those bright blue eyes unpicking Julian bit by bit as the two men stood opposite each other. Julian just managed to nod.
Every single part of Noel was so distinctive, his hair, his eyes, his nose, his smile, his cheekbones. Everything was so different.
“Cheers for this opportunity, Ju. It means a lot, yeah. I owe you one.” Noel grinned, his thin delicate fingers pulled through his backcombed hair.
“Your devotion to my performances is enough, I think we’re even.” Julian grinned and Noel shook his head sheepishly.
“What can I say? I know talent.”
They were as different as chalk and cheese. Everyone said that eventually. But maybe that’s what made them so great. Noel had a mind that would run on and on and what he needed was somebody who could reign him back in. Keep him on track. Give him something to build on, let him run in his own large enclosed pen. Give him a proper outlet. Julian recognised that early on.
From his clothing choices, to his eye make-up, to his comedy successes and comedy errors. Julian knew he just needed an outlet.
Julian was afraid Noel would be taken into the wrong hands. Into hands that would try and control him. Put him in a box, take away his colours, leave him bare. Julian was afraid Noel would be used, restricted and changed. Moulded into a normal human being by the hands of other normal human beings when Noel was so much more than that. They would cut his hair and snap his little creative bones, Julian knew he was delicate. Young and artsy, excitable about the world – still delicate.
Julian knew what he had to do.
“We should do something together.” Julian smiled at Noel who had clambered onto a bar stool and patted the one next door. An open invite for Julian to sit.
“Should we?” Noel asked with a grin. “Are you sure?”
The question hung in the air and Julian watched the cogs turning in Noel’s mind. Maybe he was scared, maybe he had a lot on. Julian didn’t really know.
“Never really thought about it until now.” Noel murmured. “Are we talkin’ about stand-up or do you want me to come around for a cuppa and perform to your mum?”
“I’ll leave that to you, sunshine. You’re the creative one.” Julian prompted. An outlet, that’s all he needed. An opportunity. “Do you want a drink?”
“Yeah, alright. Let’s have a drink.” Noel smiled and Julian returned it – it wasn’t hesitant. It didn’t feel awkward, it felt right. Maybe this was what they needed, only time would tell.